This is the hat that I did not wear to meet the Queen. I did not wear any other hat and I did not meet the Queen. But I got near. As a would-be republican I have not been flaunting the invitation but yesterday Ray and I went to our first Royal Garden Party at Balmoral. Just us and 2000 others.
Since you can reckon roughly half of those were women, that’s a lot of hats. Indeed it was a veritable mad hatters’ party, a milliner’s field day; a fantasy of tulle and net, straw and ribbon, feathers and flowers, lace and look-at-me, bobbing across the royal lawns.
Uniforms may be worn, said the invitation. To most women that means a hat. At the last moment, I left mine on the back seat of the car because I wasn’t sure it would stand up to the threatening rain. We had forgotten our royal parking permit so like a couple of swells we walked up the avenue (across a fine old Brunel bridge built 1856 and up Prince Albert’s spectacular conifer avenue; possibly the high spot of the afternoon). During the two-hour jamboree (4-6pm the invitation said) I counted perhaps 10 other women who were not wearing a hat (take my word, fascinators are on the way out) and more than half of those were waitresses
What her majesty was wearing, I have no idea. We did not get anywhere near close enough to meet her. She did not drop from a helicopter in salmon pink so we did not even see her over the crowds. But at 4.30pm the band struck up the national anthem and a dense line formed in front of the solid grey Balmoral block while hundreds queued for salmon sandwiches (what, no cucumber?) and strawberry tarts with a nice cup of tea.
It was an oddly mixed social occasion. With marquees, kilted men and all those hats, it felt like a wedding without the bride and groom and guests who couldn’t work out who the other side was. There was even a man in a morning coat with a top hat and tartan trews. But no speeches, no formalities, no cameras.
Luckily we sat beside a friendly couple, a farmer and his wife who had travelled from Yorkshire to be there. A long way to come? “It’s a long story,” said the farmer modestly. And a good one – he buys Highland cattle from Balmoral and rears them for beef, grazing them on a conservation meadow owned by the RSPB. He used to sell his beef at the Borough Market in London … and lots more fascinating stuff about the cattle and the farm. We almost forgot where we were.
And then the castle clock showed it was coming on for 6pm, we could respectably leave the party. On the way out we passed Nicholas Witchell the BBC’s royal correspondent waiting to say his piece to camera. I couldn’t imagine what he would find to say.
Add comment August 8th, 2012